Here's what I think is a fair critique of some of the tactics of the Black Bloc. The first part is an article by David Rovics that is widely available on the Internet. The second part is an additional statement in response, by someone from whom I have permission to publish here. This is relevant to certain events that have occurred, as well as the environment of the movement for social change, here in Olympia.
I'm A Better Anarchist Than You
Some Thoughts on Vancouver and the Black Bloc
By David Rovics
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I love a good riot. The distant sound of things breaking, the smoke billowing from whatever is burning, the young men and women busily smashing whatever they can find into fist-sized pieces, launching the objects over the heads of their fellow rioters (if all goes well) and into the ranks of the black-clad police with their Ninja Turtle armor, translucent plastic shields and their array of far more sophisticated weaponry. I love the scent of tear gas (if I'm just on the outskirts of the cloud), it's exhilarating, the scent of possibility, of the situation's volatility, the thrilling uncertainty. The excitement of seeing the barricades get lit on fire, knowing that no police vehicle, no matter how well-armored, is going to drive through that.
They're going to have to put the fire out first, and until they manage to get some big hoses to the scene (which might require the participation of the fire department, which might not want to participate), this is our block. Maybe the police even retreat a couple times under particularly heavy volleys of rocks and bottles, the crowd surges and cheers, meanwhile the more experienced rioters stay busy gathering wheelbarrows full of more things to throw at the cops, knowing they'll be back soon. My neighbor says it's because I'm an Aries, but whatever it is, if I find myself in the midst of such a situation, the memories are all fond ones of the rush and the togetherness of the moment. It's a warm, fuzzy feeling, really.
However, most people in most of the countries with which I'm fairly familiar – the US, Canada, England, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Japan – don't feel that way. For most people I meet riots are scary things and they don't care or notice much whether it was a chain store's windows smashed or a local one, whether only SUV's were torched or hybrids, too, whether any passersby got hurt in the process or not. The major news outlets don't pay much attention to what the underlying reasons for the rioting is – just enough about the situation for people to associate the riot with the cause and the cause with scary people who aren't like them.
I've been home in Portland over the past couple weeks, not in Vancouver for the Olympics and the accompanying protests that tend to materialize when a gigantic corporate event and the international media covering it rolls into (and over) the town. By European standards the event the media was focusing on sounds like it was a pathetic little riot, a few smashed windows and overturned newspaper boxes, but it managed to attract the lion's share of Canadian and even international media coverage, as usual – it's sensational, but more than that it serves the purposes of corporate media outlets who, for political reasons, want to make most protesters look bad and don't want people going out to rock the boat in the first place.
By my informal count traveling around, I'd say that most people in many countries are afraid to go to protests, even if their sympathies are with those protesting. They're afraid of what they've heard in the media about how things get out of control. They'd rather avoid lines of police in riot gear, and they feel unsafe at the thought that what they believed was going to be a nonviolent event might suddenly get scary when a small group of people decide to start throwing rocks through store windows.
Some of the rock-throwing anarchists (as opposed to the far more numerous non-rock-throwing variety of anarchists) will now ask, who cares? Who cares if lots of people are afraid to come to protests because of us? They're “liberals” anyway (anyone who doesn't support your right to riot is a liberal, in case you didn't know).
But here's the thing: we need a mass movement, and contrary to what certain popular primitivist authors like to say, a few thousand dedicated people are not going to accomplish much of anything, let alone revolutionary change, without the support of a mass movement. That is, whatever tactics you're using to organize resistance groups of any kind, the tactics need to be ones that don't completely alienate the general public (very much including the “liberals”). And the general public tends to be freaked out by groups of people committing acts of violence (or forms of property destruction that seem violent to them). In recent decades lots of people in lots of places have embraced all kinds of militant and often effective tactics – strikes, bus boycotts, sit-ins, building take-overs, nonviolent civil disobedience of all kinds. Those of any political persuasion who would say that tactics like these are universally ineffective are simply ignorant.
Equally, there have been some pretty darn effective movements that have employed violence around the world over the past few decades and centuries, and you'd have to be an extremely ideological pacifist not to recognize that. But these movements that have employed violent means have used a lot more than rocks. It takes a pretty desperate situation (say, Cuba in 1959) for movements like that to garner popular support, and there's not a serious guerrilla movement anywhere that wouldn't admit that the fish need the sea in which to swim, or they quickly die.
In the context of most modern, relatively well-off countries, it seems quite evident that rioting – even if it's not much of a riot – only impedes anyone's efforts at building a movement. It is, in fact, a much-used strategy of the police, as we've seen time and time again certainly throughout North America, Europe and elsewhere. I have no doubt that the first rock thrown is thrown by an undercover cop at least half the time in most situations. I also have no doubt that most of the young people participating in Black Bloc and advocating for “diversity of tactics” (translation: “don't tell me not to throw rocks, you oppressive, ageist liberal carnivore!”) are well-meaning people doing a lot of good work in their communities when they're not throwing rocks through windows. But whether or not they want to believe it, when they start throwing rocks during a march they are doing exactly the same work as the police provocateurs – I mean literally, not figuratively.
Black Bloc: doesn't this make you wonder about what the fuck you're doing?Re: I'm a Better Anarchist than You
There are some interesting comments here. Here is how I see it as a long time anarchist. First there are two types of so-called riots. There are those that are a spontaneous eruption of rage. It is not really a question of tactics or of a social movement but rather an inevitable social reality. For example the riots after King was mudered. The other type of so-called riots are those as a tactic.
There are two types of tactics. Tactics that are proactive to build a movement or win concessions and those that are reactive against something which at best are little more than a protest.
There are different types of anarchists. Those that seek, by different ways, to create an anarchist society and those that use the anarchist label as a means to protest what they don't like.
There are those anarchists that are caught-up in unrealistic idealism or fantasies that will never work. For one thing anarchism cannot come about through the actions of small groups or individuals because freedom or liberty as a social way of life must come from a great mass of people or you just have a small group of people trying to impose themselves on others and that ain't freedom.
So among those anarchists who are trying to create a new world their ability to do that is based upon their tactics. Those tactics need to do two things, have a chance to win concessions while at the same time bring in as many new people to anarchism as possible.
So called riots do have their place when the people are so outraged that they need to express it in that way, what I mean by people are communities of large numbers of people. But to riot just as a means of protest of a few that is offensive to the many only marginalizes anarchism to be nothing more than a liberal form of elitist protest. I call it liberal because at best protest alone can only reform the way the government does things and it does not, without direct organizing to build a movement, do anything to create anything different and thus it is not revolutionary.
So thus these actions do little more than reduce anarchism to being nothing more than a protest.
I know some anarchists like to beat their chest like King Kong about how "militant" they are when they riot, as if militancy is based upon how must violence or destruction you can cause. If that were the case then the U.S. Government would be the most militant body in history. In my view militancy is an uncompromising action meant to create an effect for social change, in real terms.
Just breaking windows and what not has no effect on the system. The windows don't cost that much and are easily replaced. It also seems that getting arrested is to some a great thing. There have been times when it did have an impact, but just getting arrested often has no impact. Believe me I have been arrested 26 times. Fact is that is what the cops do for a living, they arrest people. It is like asking a cab driver to drive a cab.
The real effect of actions is what we need to look at. I remember once when a group of people went after a McDonalds and were banging on the windows. Inside I saw no great capitalists but rather low paid workers and a few people eating there. I doubt many high and mighty rich folks eat there. But I do remember one older Black woman with a look on her face of fear. Was she the enemy? Were those low paid workers the enemy? The effect of that action created fear in those people and if those people are your enemy then count me with them! Damn a bunch of middle-class white kids attacking poor folks, what the hell difference is there between that and the damn system!
With all this said I have seen Black Blocs do good things. I remember once down in L.A. when the cops were attacking a march and a Black Bloc placed themselves between the cops and the other marchers and the cops backed down when they realized that they were facing an organized group that they could not push around.